Real photography isn't so much about capturing what you see, but revealing the unseen. 25-year-old Gabriel Orlowski documents today’s Warsaw punk scene, the story of both real-time struggle against social injustice in Poland and the youthful midnight ramblings of a guy from a punk band.
Orlowski’s latest book Anti-Accent (named after the ghost note with a rhythmic value but no distinguishable pitch when played) and his upcoming series Eden are a timeless analog photo diary of youth. His images are all about the energy in a moment – a sparkle from the bonfire or an anonymous kiss, they are deliberately dark, blurry and grainy, with faces transformed by the unpredictable chemistry of polaroids. Orlowski says that through blurred lines and faded details he makes the spectator “imagine and discover details to make up for what he couldn’t capture”, he brings real life’s accidents and failures back into photography. In a world oversaturated with radiant digital imagery, where it’s not rare to spend four hours retouching just one shot, we often forget that the beauty of the moment, and particularly youth itself, lies in its rough and ready nature.
Here Dazed speaks to Gabriel about punk in photography and present day culture, analog vs digital and documenting the world with no duties or responsibilities he found in the heart of Warsaw.
Do you remember how and why you started taking pictures?
Gabriel Orlowski: Yes, it was eight years ago and I wanted to get into visual arts and try to do something of my own. In secondary school I actually preferred to discover Kafka and Dali to listening to the teacher at English lessons, haha. I had absolutely zero talent at drawing or painting so I chose photography. I like the fact that it interprets the facts, makes a collage out of what you see and gives you opportunity to arrange it however you wish, rather than creating something from scratch. The effects can be very surprising and more surreal than with anything else, and they're more fun as well.
What inspired you early on and did it change over the years?
Gabriel Orlowski: At first I was into documentaries and some darker, rough stories, Nan Goldin, Dash Snow, Eggleston, Hido and alike. Now I'm fascinated with some weirder, more conceptual or more contextual stuff. Photographers like Broomberg/Chanarin, Alexander Binder, Lieko Shiga. I've recently bought the book Neo Ancient Sites from Francesca Tamse and it's extraordinary and very inspiring. Boris Eldagsen with his lightwork is excellent; I'm looking forward to seeing Black Tropicana by Rebecca Scheinberg and Chloe Newman as well. I've always liked Lynch's movies, Houellebecq and Gombrowicz. The mystery, the absurd and the cold sensitivity. Also Hans Belting, Foucault, Heidegger and similar theorists.
What are your favourite subjects?
Gabriel Orlowski: Modernity, manipulation and sensuality.
In your projects you often use polaroid shots, are they original polaroids? What's your stance in analog vs digital and why?
Gabriel Orlowski: I use the Impossible charges and Fuji FP100's. I always loved the randomness, their colors and distortions. The polaroids are very material and very organic, seeing they're based on chemical reactions. The same goes with film. Personally, I dislike digital photographs, they are way too “perfect” and smooth; they tend to beautify rather than show things the way they are. Besides, analog has a beautiful and irreplaceable grain.
You seem to be drawn to dark places (literally and metaphorically) in your photography, why is that?
Gabriel Orlowski: I think it's the mystery mostly, the blurred lines, faded details – you have to concentrate your sight and imagine and discover things to make up for what you don't perceive. I like to see my photos in all the series as clues in a detective story. Bright things are plain, transparent and boring.
When did you start shooting Anti-accent and where did the idea came from?
Gabriel Orlowski: Well, Anti-Accent was actually my first serious body of work. I wanted to try to document the most interesting things around me at the time - my friends, their relationships, the actions, the circumstances. Anti-Accent started to take form somewhere between 2010 and 2012, when we had basically no duties or responsibilities, which meant huge freedom. It shifted more towards that independence, the way people behave when they're not under supervision amd how they “explore” the world – the new possibilities and borders, creating a community with its own symbols, gestures and “language”. We attended a lot of gigs in small squats and ran-down clubs, because that was where we felt the most comfortable and that's the kind of fun we enjoy. Some of these people do skateboarding. Some play music. It's all fantastic and interesting for me and I wanted to save that story, how they develop, change and bite into life.
What's the Polish punk scene like?
Gabriel Orlowski: We have a lot of bands, some great associations and a lot of things that need someone fighting for or against in terms of justice and social equality – tenant rights, discriminations (both in terms of social and gender status), nationalism, uncontrolled advertising, domination of business and financial companies, sex inequalities, little to none cultural and social support and so on. The “scene” I know consist mostly of people similar age to myself focused more on institutional and educational work, rather than drinking beer and screaming “fuck the system” or something – there are a lot of foundations, independently organized meetings on cultural and social issues, workshops, demonstrations, concerts etc. Its very active.
Was it hard to enter it as a viewer and outsider or do you belong to it in some way?
Gabriel Orlowski: Yes and no. I'm a musician as well and my band, Merkabah, do in a way fit into what you call a scene – we play gigs at squats sometimes, we're not directly involved but we follow similar ideas and support them. Anti-Accent is actually not about entering anything, it was more of an interpretation of what you could call “punk”.
The text for the project states that these photographs “are punk” more than they “show punk”. What is punk photography for you?
Gabriel Orlowski: An action. A proof of something good and raw and an “instruction” on what really has value.
Do you think punk has a place in the present day culture or is it trapped in the past?
Gabriel Orlowski: Haha, we won't need it anymore when we're living in some sort of utopia, but that probably won't ever happen; It should be present for as long as there are injustices that need to be acted against.
Why was it important to make a book of this project? Do you think the medium of photo books is still relevant nowadays?
Gabriel Orlowski: Yes, sure, I think a book is quite an important material thing for someone to have an “intimate” contact with photography, not in a hurry or in a crowded place, like a vernissage. It's like a CD – a thing you can take home and enjoy for as long as you want and however you want. It has another another advantage of storytelling, its construction is different than at an exhibition, it has a beginning, an end and characters you can associate yourself. People still look for something with quality and soul where the book is art in itself.
Anti-accent is available here.
Follow Anastasiia Fedorova on Twitter here @anastasiia_f